Short Story Prize
The Shortlist: Q&A with Jay Tameling
There are five names on the shortlist for this year's CBC Short Story Prize. Before we announce the winner, we want to introduce you to the finalists and their stories.
Jay Tameling's story "Sweet Dynamite" is one of the five stories on the shortlist. He talks to us about driving a Zamboni, writing "Dave & Morley" stories, and the magic of Miles Davis.
Tell us about yourself
I’m thirty-six years old. I’m writing this from one of Edmonton’s many, interchangeable ice rinks. Yes—I drive the Zamboni. If you can get past the blood and the shattered teeth, the memory of the one guy that hit the ice and never skated again, it’s a rather insouciant way to make a living. I don’t mind the solitude.
What do you usually write?
A few years ago I would have said I gravitate toward longer forms of fiction. Novels and whatnot. Lately I’ve noticed the things I write are progressively constricting. I don’t know what that means in terms of my development. Generally, if I can rouse a chuckle or spin an image the reader cannot help but conjure in their mind, I consider that a success.
Have you submitted to the competition before?
Does writing dozens of un-mailed Dave & Morley stories to Stuart McLean count as submissions? No? Then this is my first time. Please apologize to Mr. McLean if I’ve creeped him out.
What is your story about?
My story is about the burden of inheritance. A young boy longs to know where and who he came from. What Hemingway discovers, all the genius and selfish ambition and recklessness, the uncertainty of its influence upon his future, is his inheritance.
What was the inspiration for your story?
I wish I had a modicum of musical talent. I’m envious of anyone that does. I wanted to see if I could write a character—Hemingway’s father—with the musical talent I wish I possessed. That he turned out to be a bit of a bastard is purely coincidental.
How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
This short story was originally the beginnings of a novel when I heard CBC Radio’s broadcast for submissions. Instead of writing something new, I took the first two chapters of “Sweet Dynamite” and distilled the essential familial underpinnings I felt would have influenced the Hemingway character through the rest of his story. It took about four or five drafts until I was happy.
Jazz and music play a big role in your story. What did you listen to when writing this? Do you normally listen to music when you write?
Music is often a catalyst for me. I can be inspired by a single line of lyrics, a melody or rhythm, one of the magical concoctions of witchcraft that roiled in Miles Davis’ heart. When I write, I listen to hodgepodge playlists and anything from Lindi Ortega’s vice-laden lyrics to Shout Out Out Out Out’s catchy beats can sweep me along a creative torrent. I can even get a good writing vibe from the worst Def Leppard song. (That’s a trick Def Lep didn’t make any bad songs.)
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was a recent university graduate, barely a year into the start of a nice career with the Government of Alberta, when I found my thoughts straying more to the stories in my head than the assignments on my desk.
Name one of your favourite Canadian writers. What is it you love about their work?
When the long-list was first released, it was a surreal moment to see my name grouped with an Edmonton luminary such as Thomas Wharton. He and other great local writers (Todd Babiuk, Lynn Coady, etc.) serve as motivation that excellent writing in my corner of the world will get noticed. In Icefields (Canada Reads 2008 selection), Wharton’s vivid depictions of the Canadian Rockies never failed to perch my imagination on top of a steep mountain incline with a set of freshly waxed skis. It’s the level of imagery I strive for myself.
How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
It’s a great honour. The readers and judges are all talented and to know that something stood out in my writing, even a flash of potential, is pretty cool. It spurs me to write more. I’d like to thank them all for their time and consideration.
Jay Tameling is in the running for the CBC Short Story Prize.
The winner will be announced on March 26. The Grand Prize is $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency at The Banff Centre, and publication in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.
Photo credit: Nadine El Jabi